Stout and quiet like his mother Smooth Choice, the sweet tempered colt forgot his usual demeanor while gazing at the romping, frisky mares in the adjacent pasture. Separated only by a fence, the colt made a bad choice, leaping into the air in attempts to clear it and join the other horses.
“He went right through the top rail,” recalls Jill Pflugheber. “And mangled his leg.”
To the relative newcomer in horse breeding, a transplant to Texas who had just started raising racehorses, the deep gash in the knee of Sally’sfirstchoice was frightening. How bad would the injury be, she wondered as she raced to the side of the fragile animal.
With relief, she discovered the cut could heal. And for six weeks, she spent every day ministering to the injured animal.
“We couldn’t really stitch the area so it required a lot of daily work, making sure it was clean, uninfected, and free of proud flesh,” she says. “Sally was a wonderful patient the whole time—not snuggly, but he was friendly and inquisitive.”
After he healed later on, he was as surefooted as the rest who stepped into the oval of a yearling sale in the early 1990s. Confidently he walked, all traces of the injury gone.
“He was a total pro at the sale with a very businesslike attitude,” she says. “And we were pleased to learn that he broke his maiden in his first race.”
Race name: Napoleon Dynamite
New name: Dan
Sire: Lycius (in Mass)
Dam: Milk Mustache
Foal Date: March 31, 2005She would eventually lose track of her jumping colt but Pflugheber would never forget him.
Throughout the early 1990s she and her then-husband continued to breed and sell horses, enjoying the excitement of an industry invigorated by the opening of Lone Star Park nearby.
But excitement was often tinged with trepidation.
She often wondered if the babies she raised and sold were okay, and she worried about them, never knowing what fate they met once leaving the protection of her Texas farm.
“It just became heartbreaking after a while because I really loved these horses” and it was harder and harder to sell them off.
“We sold yearlings for four years. Of those, I only know the outcome of a few.”
She promised herself that when she could, she would “give back to those off-track Thoroughbreds who had no good future.”
Two years ago she was finally able to make good on the promise.
After leaving the horse business, she started fresh with a career at her alma mater, St. Lawrence University, putting her natural talent for biology to work as a microscopy specialist in the biology department.
During the fall of 2009, she noticed an advertisement for ex-racehorse Napoleon Dynamite in the Finger Lakes Trainer Listings; he was a bay gelding with a terrible scar on his knee.
“My fate was sealed,” she says. “To me, it was karma. This was my chance to give back!”
So certain she was meant to take the horse she spotted in the snapshot that she recognized him immediately on the day she went to visit his farm. Standing in a paddock, he lifted his head to look at her, and she said to her companion: “That’s him.”
In fairly good condition despite the leg injury, but in need of some attention by a farrier, he was brought home at Christmastime. Pflugheber renamed him Dan, and set about providing him time off to relax in a paddock with her other horse, Levi.
“I didn’t really do anything with him for a number of months. I wanted him to have time to settle in, and to realize that good things come from me,” she says. “I brought him food, water, blankets when he was cold and told him he was a good boy.”
In the spring of 2010, she gingerly lowered a western saddle on his back and he was a “complete professional.”
“He was fine when I got on him. He wasn’t wound up at all and was cool as a cucumber.”
But the battle wasn’t won for several more months, due to an abscess that he developed in his foot. Eventually however, with the help of a supplement to help him grow a thicker sole, it healed.
Today, Dan is a new horse. Quite recovered from all his issues, he has turned into a total love bug, Pflugheber reports. During the day, he goes on trail rides and at night has free rein to roam as he pleases. He is rarely cooped up in a stall.
When she watches him play or wander about the property, it’s easy to recollect the colt who once got away. In remembrance of him, she relishes the opportunity she has had to help a racehorse so similar to her first colt. Only this time, the story has changed. Her new horse is here to stay, in his “forever home.”